Libel judge warns of a 'chilling effect' on free speech
A High Court judge has warned of the "chilling effect" for free speech if defamation cases are allowed become long and costly.
Mr Justice Max Barrett made the comments when refusing RTÉ's application to halt defamation proceedings brought against it by businessman Declan Ganley, over his alleged failures to prosecute that case or make proper disclosure of documents.
The judge refused Mr Ganley's own bid to have struck out RTÉ's defence to the case over its delay making discovery. He also agreed to permit the broadcaster to cross-examine Mr Ganley.
Noting the defamation case was initiated in late 2011 and concerned a 'Prime Time' broadcast of November 2008, the judge said he wished to set a date in the next law term.
It was not fair on Mr Ganley, who considered himself defamed, or on the relevant journalists if they did nothing wrong, to remain "mired" in proceedings for a long period.
There were concerns as to the "chilling effect for free speech, a right of profound significance", if defamation proceedings were to become "enormously lengthy and hence enormously costly affairs".
He adjourned the matter for a week to allow the parties consider his detailed judgment.
In his action, Mr Ganley claims the 'Prime Time' programme defamed him in using words or innuendo which, he alleges, meant he had links to organised crime; had falsely claimed to be a paid adviser to the Latvian government; was somehow involved in the death of a man with whom he had a close business relationship; caused a fund to lose the life savings of thousands of Albanian pensioners and was covertly working for the CIA and/or "an ill-defined group known as Neocons".
RTÉ denies defamation or that the words complained of mean what Mr Ganley alleges.
Mr Justice Barrett was asked to decide three pre-trial motions, two by Mr Ganley and one by RTÉ.
He refused Mr Ganley's application to have aspects of RTÉ's defence struck out, including its pleas Mr Ganley had a tendency to make false or exaggerated claims in business and other matters, which he denies.
The judge said he would direct RTÉ to comply "forthwith" with a High Court discovery order of February 2015.
He refused RTÉ's application to be permitted file an affidavit of discovery sworn by Katie Hannon, along with sealed documents to be opened only if the High Court ordered release of those to Mr Ganley on his making full and proper discovery.
The judge said he would make orders giving RTÉ leave to cross-examine Mr Ganley over three affidavits of discovery sworn by him.
But he would not grant RTE's application to dismiss Mr Ganley's case either for want of prosecution and/or failure to make discovery.